Let’s get vertical, vertical…

By Lynette L. Walther | May 17, 2019
Photo by: Lynette L. Walther Tuteurs and teepees support tall tomato plants. Pack more plants into less space by growing indeterminate tomatoes that grow tall, and can be tied and trained up a portion of fencing.

Short on space, looking for easy-to-harvest crops or needing to cover an unsightly element? No problem, because things are looking up in the garden. Growing vertically can solve a number of issues, can help increase vegetable yields and make harvests easier.

First, growing upward, or vertically, helps make the most of gardening space by tapping the potential of the vertical space above a garden plot or in container gardens. Gardening in all three dimensions increases the growing area available to gardeners and can increase the yield potential for gardens of all sizes. Mobility-impaired gardeners will find that vegetables that grow tall can reduce the bending and stooping common with harvesting many crops.

Here are five tips from one of the All America Selections judges. AAS is the oldest independent testing organization of flower and edible varieties. Turns out this year’s Edible/Vegetable judges discovered we need a lot of room for all the entries in the AAS Trials.

• Choose vining cultivars/varieties instead of bush types if you’re growing vertically. While bush-type crops, such as cucumbers, are more petite, they actually take up more horizontal space on the ground. Growing a vining variety lets you grow it up on a trellis, using less horizontal space. This is also true for tomatoes, even though the effect isn’t as dramatic.

Growing indeterminate tomatoes vertically on trellises, wire, etc. can increase yield and use a little bit less garden space than bushy determinate types.

• Explore a variety of plant supports to find what works for you. From cages to trellises to bamboo teepee structures, there are lots of different systems to grow just about any crop you could imagine in the garden or in containers. Check out resources for newer techniques that home gardeners can adapt for their own use, like the Florida weave system for keeping tomatoes, peppers and other tall, heavy plants upright. The technique replaces traditional staking or caging of individual plants with twine woven around and between plants, supported by equally spaced stakes or poles. It reduces the number of stakes needed, and can reduce setup and maintenance.

• Be creative when selecting materials and techniques for vertical growing. This where the fun begins. While gardeners may be accustomed to buying premade trellises, netting, or using bamboo poles, there are lots of creative ways to grow vertically. Using livestock fence panels, for example, can be a quick way to build a vertical structure for many crops in rows. These 8- or 16-foot long panels come in a variety of heights and can be installed by using a few metal posts. While a bit more labor-intensive, branches can be repurposed for a functional and pleasing trellis. which would be great when fast-growing vines are your choice to cover an unsightly element for the season.

• Intercrop short plants underneath trellised vertical crops to make good use of space, and shade. This is especially great for teepee or A-frame structures that have extra space underneath and lower-light crops that would appreciate growing in the cool shade, like lettuce, leafy greens or radishes.

• Go totally vertical! Green walls, growing pockets, hanging containers and vertical hydroponic systems can let you make use of extra wall space to grow vertically, as well. There are extra labor and watering involved, but using wall space is a great way to grow where space is severely limited.

When it comes to growing vertically, there are plenty of choices when it comes to plant selection and support devices. You could say that when growing vertically, the sky’s the limit.

This gardener got creative with a limited amount of space, growing herbs in pots and elevating cucumbers in pots tied to a handrail. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Going up in a container to grow leaf lettuces. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
Selecting varieties that climb, like these climbing beans, makes good use of a limited amount of garden space. Note sapling “poles” used as a teepee to support vines. (Photo by: Lynette L. Walther)
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